EASTER VI SUNDAY HOMILY
ACTS 8:5-8, 14-17;1 PETER 3:15-18;Gospel: JOHN 14:15-21
Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer who discovered the South Pole took a homing pigeon with him on his trip. He told his wife that if he reached the end of the world, he would release the pigeon. His wife sat for hours, all alone in their big house looking up the sky for the promised pigeon. One day she looked out the bedroom window and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. “He’s alive!” she cried, “My husband is alive!”
As Jesus gets ready to leave his disciples, he promises to send them the Paraclete who is often depicted as a dove. But there are enormous differences between the pigeon that Amundsen sent to his wife and the Paraclete that Jesus sent to his disciples. The pigeon is merely a sign that the traveller has reached his destination. Beyond that the pigeon can do nothing more. The Paraclete that Jesus sent to his disciples when he reached the Father at his ascension, on the other hand, means to them everything that Jesus himself meant for them while he was with them. Jesus was a Paraclete to the disciples, and he promised them “another” Paraclete: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete” (John 14:16).
What is a Paraclete? Many words have been used to translate this word into English. They include: Advocate, Comforter, Counsellor, Helper. The Greek Paracletos literally means someone who is called to stand beside a client. In legal terms that would be your attorney. But a Paraclete is much more than an attorney. Probably the English word that we use today that most nearly captures the meaning of Paraclete is the word “coach.” The Paraclete is our coach, always by our side, to instruct and correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we could, to defend us and fight for our rights when the judges are unfair to us. In short, the Paraclete means for us all that Jesus meant for the disciples.
Why do we need a Paraclete? For the same reason that athletes and sports people need coaches. No matter how good they are, sports people always need coaches. Even Tiger Woods has a coach. Left on our own, we are prone to mistakes and errors. Without God we can do nothing. In the 5th century AD there was a British thinker called Pelagius who taught that human beings have the natural ability to fulfill God’s commands if they so choose. The church condemned his teaching as a heresy, insisting that human beings always need God’s grace in order to please God. Pelagianism is the belief that we can fulfill our human destiny just by being ourselves, and that we do not need the grace of God that comes through faith, prayer or the sacraments. Many people today are Pelagians without even knowing it. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we all stand in constant need of divine help. We all need the divine Helper, the Holy Spirit who stands always by our side, the Paraclete.
Holy Spirit is a witness to Jesus; he will continue the work of Jesus, mediating the divine presence to the disciples; he will remind them of what Jesus taught them, he will continue to interpret Jesus to them.
Here is a striking sentence from Ignatius of Laodicea about the Holy Spirit. “Without the Holy Spirit God is distant, Christ is merely an historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organization, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christians is slave labor. But with the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a living force, the Church is a communion in the life of the Trinity, authority is a service that sets people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation, and the labor of Christians is divinised.” The indwelling Spirit of God nourishes us each time we receive the sacraments, each time we pray, each time we read the Bible.
How then do we receive this all-important Spirit Helper? It is by striving to live according to the law of Christ which is love of God and love of our neighbour. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever” (John 14:15-16).
One of the most famous of all the English poets was a woman by the name of Elizabeth Barrett, an invalid for many years, her illness so severe that in the end, she was so weak that she could not even raise her head from her pillow. One day, she was visited by a man by the name of Robert Browning, who had come to meet the author of the poetry that had inspired him so. After his first visit, an amazing thing happened. He left Elizabeth with such joy and happiness that she was able to lift her head. On his second visit, she sat up in bed. And on the third, they eloped and were married. Today she is known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the greatest of all of the English love poets. Such is the power of love. Love has the power to heal. It has the power to make well. It has the power to lift drooping heads and fill empty hearts. No wonder people were healed just by coming into the presence of Jesus. Did you ever wonder about that - those stories in the New Testament that tell of someone who came to Jesus and with just a touch or with just a word was made well? There's no secret to that. If we believe that Jesus was God's love incarnate, God's love in the flesh, why shouldn't people be healed by just coming into contact with him? For love has the power to do that. Love has the power to heal, and that's what Christ can do. But we must come into his presence through prayer, through Bible, through the Eucharist.
The gospel reminds us that the Spirit causes Jesus to be truly present in the Church. The risen Jesus’ continued presence in the Holy Spirit gives meaning and purpose to all we are and all we do in his name.
This indwelling Spirit enables us to manifest our love of God by observing the commandments of Jesus, especially the commandment of love. This commandment includes commands to recognize Jesus in the neediest, in the poor, in the sick, in the marginalized and even in the criminal ("I was in prison..."), and to be agents of healing and reconciliation in a broken and divided world.
The purpose of the indwelling Holy Spirit is to help us grow towards maturity and wholeness. The Holy Spirit comes to our aid and gives us the strength to make difficult and painful decisions. God’s Spirit actually lives in us, and we hear the voice of the Spirit, counseling and guiding us in the way of truth. Let us open our minds to hear Him and to obey His promptings.